The prospects for Britain’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union on March 29 have receded further, even as MPs rallied to stop a no-deal scenario. An amendment to the draft bill on the termination of London’s membership of the bloc obliges Prime Minister Theresa May to renegotiate her withdrawal agreement with Brussels. A Tory backbencher’s proposal calls on the government to come up with alternatives to the Irish backstop, a central tenet of the deal Britain agreed with the rest of the EU. The arrangement is meant to guarantee continuation of the soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, even if London and Brussels fail to strike a concrete relationship after Brexit. The reservations that Conservative Eurosceptics have over the backstop was a crucial factor why Ms. May delayed a House of Commons vote on her withdrawal agreement. Her subsequent attempts to secure assurances from Brussels to set a time limit on the backstop, or for Britain to quit the mechanism unilaterally, yielded no tangible outcome. A strong Eurosceptic opposition on the issue was also the reason for Ms. May’s overwhelming defeat in the House of Commons a fortnight ago. Ironically, this is the same deal Ms. May has all along insisted as being the one that could deliver the Brexit that people voted for, and to avoid Britain’s crashing out of the EU. Soon after the passage of the amendment on Tuesday, the President of the European Council reiterated the bloc’s unanimous position, ruling out a reopening of the withdrawal agreement. The Irish government has been equally categorical that as the basic guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday accord, the soft border was non-negotiable.
With less than 60 days to the deadline, the scope to overcome such fundamental differences in approach is rather narrow. Moreover, the Commons voted down a move, by Conservative and Labour proponents, to initiate legislation to defer the leave date. The latter had hoped the postponement plan would be a way to gain time, if the government failed to reach any agreement with Brussels or could not secure ratification at Westminster by late-February. Opponents, including Ms. May, dubbed the idea a remainer’s ploy to delay Brexit, or worse still, to lay the groundwork for a second referendum. But Parliament has wrested control of the Brexit process, and the demand to defer the deadline could well resurface. In that event, the EU’s favourable disposition to extend the Article 50 process could serve to influence the parliamentary balance. But Ms. May has seemed reluctant to confront the extreme stance of her Tory backbenchers and might remain hostage to a hard Brexit reality, notwithstanding the resulting chaos and upheaval. That outcome is surely not one that most leave voters would have even remotely imagined.
via On a cliff edge: on Brexit – The Hindu